The news that had been building ever since his first two career double-double came in back-to-back games to start the 2021-22 season became official on Wednesday morning: Marquette sophomore forward Justin Lewis will remain in the 2022 NBA Draft and forego his remaining collegiate eligibility.
UnderDogs Turn Into Legends… Thank you Marquette !! pic.twitter.com/32SdjUZkgo— Justin Lewis (@jusbuckets_5) June 1, 2022
As a sophomore for the Golden Eagles who didn’t turn 20 until after the season ended, Lewis became the featured player in Shaka Smart’s first year as head coach. He averaged 16.8 points and 7.9 rebounds per game, both of which led MU . He also chipped in 1.7 assists and 1.1 steals per game, and all four of those numbers were better than his averages from his freshman season. Perhaps most importantly to his NBA potential, the 6’7” Lewis connected on 34.9% of his three-point attempts and that number surged up to 40.8% in Marquette’s 19 Big East games.
None of those three-pointers were bigger than the one he sank at the end of Marquette’s 57-54 victory at the Finneran Pavilion against Villanova on January 19th. It’s that shot that perhaps displays Lewis’ top end potential the most: Not only did he want the ball to hit the shot to win the game, but he managed to salvage a possession that nearly went completely sideways on the Golden Eagles and calmly rose and fired to drain the shot that gave Marquette not just their best win of the season and the program’s first ever win in that building, but one of the best wins that any college team could claim all season long in terms of NCAA tournament profile comparisons. In short: Lewis wanted to take the big shot and he made the big shot. He’s not going to be asked to do that right out of the gate if he lands on a 2022-23 NBA roster, but the mentality and the ability is what’s important here.
And yeah, I said “if” he lands on a roster. ESPN’s Mock Draft coming out of the Combine a little over a week ago has Lewis going at #44 to Atlanta. Sam Vecenie did a Mock Draft following the Draft Lottery (just a few days before the Combine) that put Lewis at #49 going to Sacramento. I think it’s safe to say that if Lewis’ decision was based on “will I definitely be drafted” then he’s made the right choice. I’ll be shocked if he drops out of the list of 58 selections in this year’s draft.
However, only those top 30 picks get a guaranteed contract along with the selection. Being selected in the second round means it is up to the team that picked you to decide exactly how much they value having you on the roster. It’s pretty common to see college players come out of the second round with some kind of guarantee for the season, but it’s not a sure thing. We’ll have to wait and see exactly what happens.
As for the impact of Lewis’ decision on the Marquette roster, well, that’s a good question. T-Rank was already factoring for Lewis’ departure, and thus slotted the Golden Eagles in at #64 to start next season. Adding Lewis back into the fold would have jumped MU up to #39 in the country, so it’s not like Lewis leaving is the difference between Marquette being an NCAA tournament team and competing for a national championship. It’s more like the difference between “we need to see how the new guys fit in” and being a surefire NCAA tournament team. The swing spot on the roster might just be NAIA grad transfer Zach Wrightsil. If he can be a notable contributor at the Division 1 level, then that #64 ranking is probably very low.
We’ll wrap up with the scholarship chart as Justin Lewis’ spot is officially open going forward. His departure leaves the Golden Eagles with one open spot for this coming season.... but also only the exact same spot for the 2023-24 season as well. If there is a potential grad transfer out there that was exploring their NBA future that ends up withdrawing from the draft, that would probably be MU’s best option for the spot in 2022-23. That would allow Shaka Smart and his staff to continue to recruit for the 2023-24 spot, whether that’s a freshman to join Zaide Lowery in that class or a grad transfer in that season as well. I would be surprised to see the spot go to someone with more than one year of eligibility remaining, but weirder things have definitely happened before.